Chapter XI


The Cylons confiscated Starbuck's laser pistol almost before his Viper had grated to a halt in the Cylon landing bay. Two of the enemy held his arms for the body search; they took the computron, hand-held communicator, and the knife he had taken to carrying concealed in his boot. Baltar was obviously taking no chances with them.

As they shackled his wrists behind his back, he caught glimpses of his fellow pilots being similarly searched and restrained. The lunatic Sagittaran couple were standing docilely enough, looking very patient and unconcerned. Astarte was white-faced and apparently near hyper-ventilation from fear or shock. He expected he was nearly as pale. Funny, he thought bitterly, Heimdal and Sif didn't seem to realize what their probable fate now was.

A force screen maintained the atmospheric integrity of the bay. Beyond the massive shielded door through which they'd flown to enter, Starbuck could see the barren landscape of an airless world, and the cold, unblinking stars in the dark sky above.

So no escape out there. We'd need atmosphere suits, and a Cylon base like this might not have anything we humans could use. And no air, water, or food to live on if we did get outside. Even if we had suits, we'd need to get a ship in a few centars – all the Cylons would have to do is hold us off that long, and we'd suffocate out there....

If we escape, we'll have to go through the base, and past however many guards are between this bay and the holding cells. That's assuming we aren't executed in the next few centons.

Nah. If Baltar's really here, he'll have other plans for us. And a lot of questions....

I shoulda blasted my way in here. Just cut loose with the lasers and blown the insides out. Let 'em know that telling me where to go is bad strategy. Course, I wouldn't be here any more. Either I'd'a gone out in a fireball with the rest of the base, or they'd have picked me off with their anti-assault guns. That might not have been so bad. I wouldn't have to face Baltar again.

His thoughts of escape or attack didn't include Heimdal and Sif, he realized, but didn't much care. If they wanted to rot in Cylon custody, they were welcome to.

Unless they're turning traitor...? Lords, no! What if they plan to sell out? Can't let that happen, gotta see what they do and say now, maybe there's a reason, gotta stop 'em if there isn't.... Maybe I shoulda blown the place. I was the last to land, we'd've all gone out together, their plans wouldn't be a problem anymore.

His brooding was interrupted by a Cylon laser rifle between his shoulder blades. He fell into step with the others as ordered. The four prisoners were taken to a turbolift, under guard. The lift dropped unknown levels into the asteroid.

* * * * *

Baltar studied each of the prisoners thoroughly, letting his eyes linger insultingly on them for long centons. He had the time; he was entitled, after this long, to revel in his shackled captives. At least the Cylons had finally accomplished that much.

All four wore the insignia of the battlestar Pegasus. He didn't know the one team. Both wore the braids of one of those odd Sagittaran sects; he couldn't recall which one, nor did he care. The man was a stoic-expressioned redhead, the woman an attractive blonde but blank-eyed as if mindless.

He took more time to savor the other prisoners. He recognized them both from the past. Ah, the times he'd dreamed of properly "rewarding" Starbuck for their past encounters, on the basestar, on the Galactica, at the tribunal.... And Astarte, pale with fear but holding up well – he would make sure she remembered their prior meeting! Seeing them at his mercy almost made up for a multitude of the ills inflicted upon him by their commanders.

And he must ensure their commanders knew every detail of their interrogation and demise! Or would it be of greater enjoyment and benefit to keep the prisoners alive for a time, after their questioning? How would Adama and Cain react if they knew he had broken and tamed two of their finest? Baltar decided he would ask those two estimable opponents, before destroying them.

"Do we need to ask what you want from us?" Starbuck finally demanded.

Baltar only smiled, enjoying the stress the man's words revealed.

"So eager, Starbuck?" he leered. "But what brings you to be my guests? Not satisfied with Cain's hospitality? I'm not surprised, I wasn't either."

"Actually, we heard you were having a party and we couldn't resist crashing the gate," the lieutenant retorted sarcastically.

"Starbuck." Heimdal's one word, flatly delivered, silenced him. Alone, he might have exchanged barbs with Baltar all day, but the captain had reminded him of the duty of silence in captivity.

Baltar sniggered, knowing quite well what was going on in Starbuck's mind. "Indeed! Well, I'm so happy you found time in your social life to attend my 'party.' It's in your honor, after all! But I see you've changed your company, Starbuck. You must be developing better taste, in your final days, to have abandoned your captain."

Starbuck flushed at that, reminded of too many things, and bit his lower lip to avoid the bitter retorts that still showed in his eyes. That was a pity; Baltar had hoped for another revealing outburst, perhaps explaining how he had come to be among Cain's people.

"No threats? No quick witticisms for your old friend Baltar? Or is it that Captain Apollo has finally met his proper reward as well? And taken your wits with him?" Baltar jabbed, not certain if he would be elated or disappointed if Apollo were dead.

Pain replaced anger in the prisoner's eyes, followed as quickly by thoughtfulness. However, he held his tongue.

Baltar caught a restless sidestep by Astarte, but the other two seemed content merely to wait him out. A flash of annoyance ran through him; almost like Cylons, the way they stood so impassively.... Or did they hold some other secret, that they were unafraid of him?

"I'll have to tender my sympathies to Commander Adama, the next time we meet," he drawled with affected gravity. He smiled again, content to gloat; anticipation was to be savored. "Assuming he survives to acknowledge me the victor when he is finally beaten. After we have finished our business together, Starbuck. And I have not forgotten you, Astarte. Red so becomes you, I must see you more property attired and crowned. I'm looking forward to more than one battle. At the moment, however, I have other things to tend to. Centurions, take them to the holding cells. For now."

The four Cylons herded them out. He caught Astarte glancing his way, then swallowing hard and turning away when she saw him watching her. He could tell Starbuck was deliberately refusing to look back, but wanted to. The other two – whose names he realized he still didn't know – simply walked out like automatons.

Just to further unnerve Starbuck, Baltar started laughing. The warrior's back stiffened as he froze for a micron, but he didn't turn around.

* * * * *

On the bridge of the Pegasus, tension hung in the air. The centars stretched on like eternal Hades. The passing centons were ages to be faced, leaving nothing in memory to recall as each dwindled into the immediate past. The crew prayed silently and in their own fashions, for the safety of their absent comrades, for inspiration to touch their commander, for a call to battle, for anything that would shatter the spiraling strain on their minds and psyches. The crew all knew that something dark and deadly was going on in their commander's thoughts. Cain's swagger stick, the symbol he was never without, lay abandoned on the flight officer's console. Such a rare occurrence had to be noted, and had to have serious meaning.

Cain waited, ensconced on the command deck like a hidden predator, refusing to leave his lair. The four who had encountered Baltar's Cylons and apparently surrendered were gone, with no further communications. There was no word from the fugitive warriors, nothing to indicate their fate, whether they had escaped or also fallen victim to the Cylons.

Cain waited through the change of duty shifts. Kenji and Tolan stayed with him, needing to know what would happen next, ready for battle or to assist their commander, afraid to draw attention to themselves by walking away. Below, however, the crew changed, blue and brown uniforms moving in a carefully choreographed ritual of position exchange. Lygia replaced Memnon at core communications; Argus took Senmut's place at navigation; Castalia returned, unshaken by the near-kidnaping; Mriko shook her head when Agni appeared for his shift at scanners, preferring to remain on duty, until Kenji nodded at his wife to go. All of them, and the rest, came and left with muted voices and steps; there was none of the usual banter and vocal reports as crewmen double-checked their position and status before settling in.

Cain waited, ignoring them all. Waves of hatred and fury washed through his soul. He fed from every one of them, letting each crest and ebb as he considered his options. The flames chilled, frosted over, and turned to ice as the tactician endured the surges of emotion. When it became obvious they were not to be attacked, he could turn his attention to longer-range plans than surviving the day. Then the passion had to be stilled and caged so that cold, rational thought could bring forth a plan.

The crew had no way of following the path of Cain's thoughts, nor did they want to, after a look at his face, at the empty hands gripping the railing, centon after centon. The swagger stick lay forlorn; Tolan couldn't take his eyes off it. It was better than meeting the demon in Cain's eyes.

At his own discretion, Daniel dispatched a full warriorscore to stand guard on the bridge as well as in life center; the commander scarcely seemed to notice that, either, as the armed and armored men and women took siege positions.

"Nothing on scan," Agni reported automatically, his loud voice breaking the whispering silence for the first time in three centars. At the sudden attention on him, the sergeant hunched his slender shoulders and slouched down in his chair.

"Thank you, Sergeant," the commander replied, rousing himself to speak for the first time in those centars.

The tension snapped in universal relief.

Cain turned his attention to his current second. "Well, Kenji, it appears we won't be hearing from our missing warriors, nor will we be the object of an immediate Cylon attack."

Kenji nodded. "So it seems, Commander."

"Then I believe it is time we prepared an attack of our own."

Kenji studied Cain with slightly raised eyebrows, and let a smile touch his lips as a spark ignited in his dark eyes. "Indeed, sir."

Cain glanced at the viewport. "We've been studying this base for far too long. Now we're going to take it, and save our people, if we can. As soon as Major Electra returns, I want to see her. For now, take command."

There were so many things to think about, but the one foremost in his mind was Baltar. It was Baltar's base they were about to attack. This time, the traitor would not escape. A time for revenge had finally come.

"And where shall I say you wish to see her?" Kenji asked.

"Unless you hear otherwise, I'll be in life center. I have a few things to discuss with Doctor Helena."

Cain reached automatically for his swagger stick. One sharp rap across his palm, and he strode down the steps. Kenji squared his shoulders with anticipation. Tolan sighed in relief. Lygia barely stifled a nervous giggle. The legend had reclaimed his pride; things would be all right. The air of relief was more of a battle already won than a fight soon to come.

* * * * *

Helena stared at her hands, not even trying to control their trembling. The long, pale fingers shook visibly. She rubbed her hands together; it brought no return of warmth. The doctor was glad she had no surgery waiting. When she remembered the circumstances that made surgery impossible, a shudder racked shoulders as beyond control as the hands. She forced it down, schooled her face back to calm with an effort.

It had been a fluke that they'd found anything at all. One of the med techs had noticed the bare micron's fluctuation in Sgt. Falstaff's brainwave pattern – Galswintha, of course, who could be counted on to notice things no one else could detect. Beej was the one who had found the source, the lightest shadow of webbing on the brain scan. There was something in Falstaff's head, maybe woven into his very synapses, something they would never have found but for one med tech's insistence that something had to be wrong, and one doctor's willingness to spend a full centar studying an apparently normal brain scan.

There was nothing similar in Sgt. Scyld's head, thank the Lords.

Her medical team had been the best in the fleet. She'd stake her life or anyone else's on that fact. The thing in Falstaff's head was beyond any of their experience or skill. They didn't know what it was or what it did, and they had no way to remove it.

Beej had taken Falstaff into surgery for an exploratory; maybe he could learn something.

Scyld was now under sedation and restraint. If that wasn't enough, security was standing by to take whatever action was needed.

Someone stepped into her office. Helena glanced at him. The cool facade was real this time, if her icy fingers were any indication. It was Beej; he must have completed the procedure.

"Yes, Beej? Anything more?"

He nodded somberly. "I think so. Still nothing on the composition of the stuff, but it's not a growth, nothing natural. Has to have been put there. Very sophisticated. From the position of the webbing, I'd say it's affecting several brain centers, particularly the area of will. It may also be feeding new motor commands. The way it's woven into the brain, I have no idea how it was implanted. We certainly can't remove it."

Helena sighed lightly. "Anything else."

"Yes." He grimaced, rubbing his stubbled chin and taking a deep breath. "I had Galswintha pull the files on our fugitives for some comparisons. Knowing what to look for, we finally found a connection among all of them."

"What?" She finally focused her attention entirely on Beej.

"The same shadow existed on the brain scans of Captain Apollo, Captain Orestes, Captain Heimdal, Lieutenant Sif, Sergeant Falstaff, and Lieutenant Boomer of the Galactica. Thanks to Winna's sharp eyes.... Nothing before their captivity among the aliens, but present in all of them afterward – and only in them, we cross-checked with others of our people on the off chance that it might be some new symptom of emotional disorder. Nothing in anybody else, healthy or otherwise. Can't speak for Boomer, but I have the distinct feeling that certain of the recent odd behaviors of our people could be directly traceable to this."

"The aliens," Helena murmured. "They sent our people back to us, but changed ... controlled." She leaned back, eyebrows lightly furrowed.

"It would fit with the removal of the contraceptives from Heimdal and Sif – the same medical technology could be capable of both. We did the usual check-up, but didn't find anything, so we accepted our own verdict and congratulated ourselves on getting off lucky. There were no scars of surgery, so we didn't even look further. We didn't realize what a superior technology could have done to our people that we couldn't detect." He sounded bitter. They'd let their people down, failed men and women who trusted them; who knew what the final cost of that would be?

"But it doesn't explain Scyld; he must be suffering some other psychological stress...."

"That's entirely possible," the other doctor replied steadily.

"Helena? Beej?" The dark woman hesitated at the door, pushing her hair back from her face.

"Yes, Galswintha."

"Sergeant Scyld is awake. He has no memory of his actions the past few centars beyond an urge to find somebody and then go looking for somebody else. The last thing he definitely recalls is stopping by Heimdal and Sif's quarters to discuss the new roster now that ... since Sif was going to take maternity reassignment."

"Heimdal and Sif's quarters...." That was a new twist, maybe a bad one. Foreboding reached up Helena's spine, warning, warning.... She knew she'd better not ignore it. She glanced out the panel into the main life center chamber. Two security men stood at attention near Scyld's life pod, while Cadmus, the biggest person on the medical staff, almost twice Scyld's size and all of it muscle, leaned him over him for some test or other.

Security. Maybe she'd better call Daniel and have his people check it out.

"At least we know something more than we did," Beej said, staring off into space.

"Do we really? And what good is it to know there's nothing we can do but stand in awe of some technologically superior beings' handiwork?"

"The Commander is here," Galswintha interrupted, glancing out the door. "Do you want to speak with him?"

"Yes."

She'd barely risen from her desk when Cain strode in. "Helena, how are the men? Have you figured out what's wrong and how to treat them?"

"We aren't even sure we can."

Cain fixed her with a bemused look. "Such an admission from you, Helena? I expected better of you."

"So do I," she returned coolly, pulling herself together. "But I think when you've heard everything, you'll understand."

"I'll understand later," he interrupted. "For now, you'd better get your medical teams to fully ready status. We'll be seeing some action soon." Before the woman could express the outrage and shock building in her expression, Cain continued with, "And then we'll be following our chief medical officer's advice and rejoining the fleet."

The unexpected announcement, delivered so casually, left the medical team standing agape as Cain strode away again as quickly as he'd arrived.

* * * * *

Maj. Daniel glanced around the neat, orderly room. The Raggane head of Bronze Wing and his wife had a reputation for neatness above and beyond the call of duty. It appeared to be true. There was not a speck of dusty or piece of paper out of order anywhere in the room. That should make the place easier to search; anything that didn't belong should stand out like an Otori at an old Gemonese harvest orgy.

He turned to Lt. Barin and Sgt. Pele, the officers assigned the search duty, each now in protective shielded suits, as he was. "We'll take the place apart if we have to. Report anything out of the ordinary, but don't touch it if you have any suspicions about it being dangerous."

With quiet acknowledgments, they scattered. Daniel began searching too, checking the shelves of the office, examining every item resting in its place. Nothing. He moved to the desk, quickly scanning the neat pile of print-outs waiting for the flight leader's attention. Then into the drawers.

"Major!" Barin's husky voice. "I found something."

Daniel moved swiftly into the bedchamber, Pele joining them a moment later.

Nestled in one of the underbed storage chests was a small silver object, ovate, with no visible seams or clasps of any kind. There were no markings, no color variations that they could detect in the room's lighting.

Pele risked setting her gloved fingers on the metallic egg, then carefully picked it up. "It's warm!" she said, startled, quickly setting it down on the floor.

"Warm, Hades! It's starting to smoke!" Barin hissed.

The three officers jumped back, ready to bolt, if there was time.

Daniel hit the telecom. "Damage control–"

Several thin wisps of smoke or steam curled upward. The egg-shape suddenly darkened as if burning, then crumbled away into dust. Only a round dark smudge of soot remained, marring the immaculate nape of the carpet.

* * * * *

"Commander!" A strangely pale Reese pelted down the corridor to join Adama. "The search of the celestial chamber.... We found something, sir."

Adama had halted at Reese's call. He took a step forward. "What did you find?" he demanded tensely.

"A small oval device, apparently made of some silvery metal...."

"Yes?" Adama didn't try to hide the tension. "Has Wilker been able to analyze it?"

Reese shook his head. "He'd barely arrived in the celestial chamber when the device turned to a pile of ash."

"What?" the commander fired back.

"It became warm, then steamed or smoked for a micron, then just collapsed into ash."

"Like Thjis...."

Reese nodded his head. "That's what Dr. Wilker thought."

Adama stared past the security officer, eyes focusing on the wall as memories ran through his mind. Thjis. The human-shaped construct the aliens had sent among the Colonials to observe and kidnap. The machine that had self-destructed when faced with capture and examination. The android that inexplicably had cared that no humans be injured in its immolation.

Apollo had been a prisoner during that time, as had Boomer. They had come back, apparently uninjured, with memories of lengthy interrogations and little else. The celestial observation chamber had been his son's private sanctuary. Apollo's escape, which had concealed an alien device possibly of the same sentient beings' creation.

But Apollo was gone. And so was Boomer, with Colonel Tigh. Treason? Or mind control? And did it matter now? Sheba had been in the celestial chamber. Was she involved? How? Was there any way, now, for them to find the answers?

* * * * *

Dr. Beej paused in the middle of his inventory check. The supply review was unnecessary, as their computers kept track of inventory down to the last tube of suture-seal and the complete number of sterile injector needles on hand; even if the computers failed – and the ship still somehow survived – Helena ordered checks on an average of every few days as a precaution. This was only make-work, something to keep the medical staff occupied while they waited for the inevitable casualties that would result from the coming attack. No one would be affected if he failed to finish the check.

His mind hung poised beyond the battle, on the now tangible moment when the Pegasus and the Galactica would be reunited. A moment when he could meet Boxey again.

Without Apollo there to interfere.

Before the first fateful meeting at Gamoray, it had been two yahrens since he'd last talked to Serina, longer since they'd had time together. The war and their jobs had kept them apart. The family vacation they'd expected after the Cyrannus patrol had been canceled when the mission to Molecay came up, along with every other crewman's furlon. The Britannica had gone with the Fifth Fleet, and been destroyed, and it had been pure chance he'd survived to reach the Pegasus with the shuttle of injured, and stranger luck that Cain had somehow bought them all survival through everything that had happened since.

It had been so long even before Molecay.... Seven sectons, he remembered, since he'd had time with Serina and Boxey. The boy had been a mere three yahrens old. It was no surprise Boxey hadn't recognized him at Gamoray, after three yahrens. For half his life, the boy hadn't seen his father, probably didn't even remember what he sounded or looked like.

What had been a surprise was hearing his son call Apollo "Father" the first time he'd gone aboard the Galactica. That had wounded him so badly he'd gone back to the Pegasus and not tried to see Boxey again, over those first few days. The pain had festered inside ever since.

Maybe it had been wrong and cruel to place any blame on Apollo; how could he have known? The Fifth Fleet had been presumed lost, why shouldn't Serina have remarried, as beautiful, alive, and passionate a woman as she was? Especially after the horrors of the Destruction? How could he be angry at her for finding some small happiness in the last days of her life?

But he did feel angry at her. It felt as though she'd betrayed him. With Apollo. And then died so he couldn't see her again or be with her or tell her he still loved her.

Leaving their son with another man.

The second time, when the aliens had taken Apollo and the others, he'd made a point of seeing Boxey, very carefully, very tentatively. The boy hadn't recognized him,. But he had been glad for an adult who was willing to spend time with him. He was sure he'd won his son's trust and friendship. There hadn't been time to tell Boxey the truth before Cain had taken them away again. And maybe, with Apollo back again, Beej admitted to himself, he'd been afraid to tell either of the commanders, or press for his rightful custody. So he'd gone away, trying to forget, again.

It was amazing no one had realized. He had been relatively new aboard the Britannica, but there were several who made the connection between his wife Serina and the rising journalist of Caprica, especially when they saw her holo enshrined in his quarters. However, few of them had survived. Aboard the Pegasus, even fewer had known or cared. And by the time they reached the Galactica, she had been dead so long.... Maybe it was part of the defense mechanism. Forget the dead as fast as you can and go on. Or maybe those who did know decided it was better left unsaid. Certainly Apollo had shown no awareness of his identity.

Beej sighed shakily. Guilt ate at his stomach. It was wrong to be glad the captain was gone, wrong to crave so desperately the chance to win his son's love back. He shoved it away. He hadn't caused Apollo to lose his mind; he had stood aside for long enough while Apollo kept Boxey; he had nothing to feel guilty about.

A genetic test would prove he was Boxey's father. Beyond that, the only tangible thing he had to remember Serina and their life by was a single holo. He'd grabbed it during the evacuation, carried it over his heart for the shuttle flight and most of those first rough days. The image of Serina and himself, with a very young toddler – Boxey at two.

He would have Boxey back. The right way. Carefully, lovingly. Renew the friendship first. Then, when the boy was ready, tell Adama the truth, bring Boxey to live with him. And when he was old enough to understand, or maybe when he started remembering, tell the truth to him too. It would be all right. Somehow, it would work out.

* * * * *

Patrol had been a quick and convenient escape from the Pegasus – and any chance of encountering Apollo again – until Electra could sort out her emotions. In potential enemy territory, the old rules of maintaining general silence held, so there had been no communiques to interrupt her thoughts. But as she and Sgt. Akimi continued their long, silent patrol, nothing became settled in her mind.

Apollo wanted to seal with her. How that thought thrilled and terrified her. He was a wonderful man – handsome and intelligent, with a warm smile and a sensitive nature in the body of a warrior. A little stuffy at times, but that was to be expected from someone with his background and position. He could be persuaded to unwind when they were together. They might even be able to make a life together. She was attracted to him on many levels, had been since the day they met. She had almost risked Sheba's friendship to pursue that interest.

But Lords, she wasn't sure sealing was in the deck for her!

After all, look at the life her mother had led. Antigone had spent an entire life wanting only one man, the one man who had eluded her; she had never sealed to anyone, and had in the end been very bitter about men and marriage. She'd often told her children that the old sealing rituals were unnecessary, useless relics of a darker age, merely a way of forcing people to stay together even after they no longer wanted to, that the only people who bothered to marry were those who were too weak to stand alone or too snared in romantic fantasy to realize with what kind of chains they were binding themselves.

So she justified herself, when all she'd wanted was Chameleon to be hers forever.

Electra knew her mother's life had impacted on her feelings about marriage. She'd certainly been asked before! Three of the proposals had even been serious. And each had sent her racing in the opposite direction in cold fear, the only things she could recall that had ever sent her running in terror. She hadn't been interested in staying with any of those three – or any of the other men she had known – on any long-term basis, much less the lifetime and the eternities the sealing ceremony spoke of.

And if they ever returned to the fleet, as Cain had said, how would Sheba react to finding them sealed? Sheba and Apollo had been close; she remembered Sheba's accusations, this might seem to confirm them.

But thinking about the past wouldn't help find an answer today. And Sheba wasn't the issue. Did she want to marry Apollo? For today and tomorrow and all the eternities? She was sure Apollo was speaking of that kind of sealing, the old Caprican, ancient-and-forever rituals that supposedly went back to their motherworld, to the Lords of Kobol, not one of the less permanent bondings recognized on some Worlds. Sealing forever. She wasn't sure....

The centars had vanished without her realizing it. The Pegasus appeared on her scanners, then took visual shape before her.

Lygia seemed unusually somber as she gave landing confirmation. In the landing bay, she found Commander Cain waiting for her, a grim expression deepening the carved-stone lines of his face. His eyes pierced her, searching for clues of her feelings, for some reaction to his presence.

"Major."

"What is it, Commander?" It had to be a problem.

"Electra, we've had a serious situation develop while you were gone."

She met his eyes, a slight, worried frown puckering her forehead.

Cain paused, apparently considering his words with care. Then, "Come with me to the decontamination area. I can debrief you after the drill. This ... is personal."

* * * * *

She took it well, Cain though, studying his flight officer. Pale, but unbeaten; a little wobbly perhaps, but hiding it behind a set face.

It hadn't been easy, questioning her about what she might know about Orestes's actions – and Apollo's, considering their current ... relationship. Then finally responding to her barely-concealed anxiety, and telling her they were gone, and Kleopatra with them; and Starbuck and Astarte following, with Heimdal and Sif's equally inexplicable actions, and Scyld and Falstaff's. Then the device found in the flight leader's quarters....

Too much. It was too much to explain or to understand in one stunned moment. He wondered if it had penetrated her thoughts that they would be attacking Baltar's base in less than a day.

"Lords of Kobol.... So many.... Orestes and Starbuck.... The others.... Lords, Apollo...."

She turned away for a moment.

"Electra?" Cain asked. Certainly the loss of her brothers this way had been dreadful. He also knew Apollo's loss must hurt. Add the fact that the other missing pilots had also been friends, and it was quite possible the woman was on the verge of an emotional breakdown – assuming Helena's assessment of the crew's current situation was correct. "What about Apollo?"

"This morning he asked me to seal with him," she replied steadily.

Cain froze in a momentary chill of anger. Apollo and Electra...? But Sheba...? He ended that line of thought as brutally as he could; he knew he had no right to think of that just now. Sheba had turned Apollo away, he was entitled to seek comfort elsewhere, even from the flight commander. And now Electra would have to grieve for a lost love.

But he would soon see his baby again, when they rejoined the Galactica. He found himself craving that homecoming, poor as it was against the Destruction of their Worlds. The fleet. Old friends. Home. His little Sheba.

After the battle.

"Well be attacking at seven hundred. Will you be ready to lead the squadrons? Or do I need another flight leader for tomorrow?" That gave him pause. Today he'd lost Heimdal, Orestes, and Apollo. Half the experienced flight leaders of his crew were gone.

"I'll be ready, sir." Her chin was firmly in the air. He knew she would be up to the job.

Nodding briskly, he left the major to her grieving, eager to be back on his bridge again, eager to see his world put back in order by his own commands.

* * * * *

Alone, Electra numbly made her way back to quarters to catch a nap before the planned attack, and to try and prepare herself mentally. She found her thoughts on Apollo, not Orestes or Starbuck or preparing for battle. He was gone. There would be no sealing, no questions to work out about an uncertain future. Now that he was gone, she didn't have to think about him anymore.

But now she wanted him more than ever. Wasn't that the way it always was? They were most missed when they were gone forever. Until that point, one never knew what pain they could inflict by their mere absence. At that moment, she would gladly have given her life to have Apollo back, to seal with him for all the eternities, and never have looked back.

"Apollo," she breathed his name, alone in her achingly empty bed. All of too-late discovered love, echoed in his name.


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Enter Sheba's Galaxy